Measuring Poor Performance

Do you have these performance ratings in your appraisal system?

  • Meets expectations
  • Exceeds expectation
  • Did not meet expectations

I hope not, because they are worse than useless.


The purpose of the performance rating

Often it is linked to pay (though there is much debate over whether this is a good thing to do or not). Ideally appraisals and performance reviews are there so that, an individual is in the best possible position to achieve the following year’s objectives.
That means they need to know what those objectives are and what they personally need to do differently in order to achieve them (as compared with the previous year).
Sometimes performance ratings are used as a way to get managers to deal with performance issues they have ignored for the rest of the year.


Rating systems need to be crystal clear and fair

Having weak and muddy definition just makes life more difficult for everyone. I was working with a client on performance rating systems just this week and, when I went through the system I recommend he gasped at the bottom rating:


Is costing us more than the value he/she adds

Instead of ‘below expectations’  He gulped and laughed nervously. He didn’t think you could say it quite that straight. He wanted to couch it in different language. Why do people want to do that? The important thing is that it’s clear.


No one should be getting this rating

Let’s face it; you shouldn’t have too many people getting this performance rating. In fact, you shouldn’t have anyone who gets this rating.
However, just having it there, bold and clear, is a great way of drawing people’s attention to the fact that you are keeping an eye on it and it is important.


But there are some people whose performance warrants it

I had a client with an employee who was costing them £1m/year. And I know of another case where decisions made by an individual that cost the company over £2bn in lost sales (again per year). The individual who cost £2bn is still there as far as I know, but lots of others have lost their jobs. And many of those were people adding great value.
If you have a rating system it needs to be easy to use and difficult to argue over.


Unfortunately many systems are the exact opposite of this.

The individual needs to leave the meeting motivated and feeling they have been fairly treated.
If an individual has been managed well this is usually quite easy. If not, it’s more problematical.


Rating poor performance

If an individual’s performance has been poor obviously it should already have been tackled, but how do you decide when there is a problem? So often it’s left far too late.
I imagine this is because people often hope it will go away on its own, or they just don’t know how to tackle it.


Use this performance test

Having a measure as clear as this makes it easier for everyone. It gives you one way to check if you should be tackling a performance issue (or if you’ve left it too late). Ask yourself if it is costing more to employ the individual than the value they add.

Remember to include:

  • Loss of sales
  • Your own time that is taken up dealing with issues
  • Loss of time of colleagues
  • Quality problems (and rework)
  • Performance problems caused for others
  • Any stress caused to others and time off as a result
  • People leaving because they won’t work with the individual
  • Legal issues

The cost mounts up quite quickly, so make sure you tackle the problems early.


Tackling Poor Performance Issues

Yes, it’s easy to fall into these traps. Our handy booklet How to Deal with Poor Performance will walk you through 54 simple tools and techniques to ensure that will make it easy for you to tackle the toughest issues. It’s short and to the point so you can quickly find the help you need.

And of course we’ll show you just what to say in those really difficult situations that people struggle with.
You’ll discover:

•    The basic strategies you need for dealing with poor performance
•    How to deal with poor behaviour
•    How to prepare for each conversation

Get How to Deal with Poor Performance now.

Failure is an option

Here’s what happened at a meeting I was told about recently. A team were discussing their plan for the next three months. One of the team (a member of the sales department) proclaimed; “Failure is not an option”.

It is one of those phrases that you see macho guys screaming at weaklings in films. I’m thinking Bruce Willis (I don’t know if he’s ever said it, but if he hasn’t he should have).


Lunch is for wimps

A sister (or brother) phrase is the old favourite “Lunch is for wimps”. (Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street”.)

We assume that people who use these empty words somehow imagine that they are motivating their team to higher and higher levels of achievement. They aren’t.


All improvement comes from working harder

This is completely untrue. It is far more effective to plan carefully and thoroughly, it’s just not as glamorous. So you have to choose. Do you want to just appear macho and perhaps glamorous for a short time or do you want to be truly successful?


Failure is an option

Some people think that blasting out macho phrases and threats is enough to improve performance on its own. The idea that people need to be forced into working harder by the fear of what will happen if they fail and this is the best way to improve performance and get the results you need.

In my personal experience this is a very poor substitute for effective delegation and careful planning.


Kriss Akabusi

I once met Kriss when we were speakers at the same conference. He told his story of winning a hurdles race and seeing the headlines in the newspapers the next day, which were along the lines of ‘Kriss Akabusi – overnight hurdles success’.

In fact he had spent eight years training in this sport. He just hadn’t said much about it to others.


Bill Bailey

I’ve seen the hilarious Bill Bailey live several times. He too talks of his ’20 year overnight success’. He had a similar experience to Kriss Akabusi when his success was seen as ‘overnight’ by the press. It wasn’t. He had worked for many years on his act, and honing his skills.

Yes, both these people are motivated, but that’s not all. They both planned and worked at their skills for years in order to become successful.

And, before they succeeded, they failed quite a few times. But they kept on working at it.

Motivation and threats just don’t work in the long term and area always trumped by effective management and planning.

The foundations of effective management and planning are clear objectives that are understood by everyone.


How to write your objectives and set your goals

Getting your objective right isn’t always easy. Our handy booklet How to Write Objectives That Work will walk you through 55 simple tools and techniques to ensure that you get your objectives right. It’s short and to the point so you can quickly find the help you need.
And of course we’ll show you just what to do with those really difficult objectives that people struggle with.
You’ll discover:

  • The key steps to take to write any objective
  • 7 key words and phrases you must avoid when writing objectives and what to do instead
  • How to make your objectives SMART

Get How to Write Objectives That Work now.

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How to give really awkward feedback


What do you do when you need to give some awkward feedback? A client recently told me of a disastrous attempt to do this that ended up in an argument.


Here’s where he went wrong

His team member brought up the subject when the rest of the team was there and my client then started discussing the issue in front of the team.

He stated the problem in words that were open to interpretation, words that could easily be seen as an attack. This prompted a very defensive response from the team member.

My client then said he wasn’t happy with the way the team member was working on this particular issue so the team member said he didn’t want to work on it any more.

My client started to get angry and was losing control.


Imagine this at Fawlty Towers

To make it real without exposing those involved, I’ve transposed the situation to Fawlty Towers and imagined a similar conversation between Basil Fawlty and Manuel the waiter from Barcelona. Imagine it taking place during a busy evening in the middle of the restaurant with voices raised.
Manuel (the waiter nervously approaching his manager about a problem) to Basil “Have you had any problems with customers saying there is too much lettuce in the salad and not enough meat?”
Basil Fawlty (who is aware of the problem as he has received a complaint from table 12 replies angrily) “No. No one from any of my tables has complained. Have the people on table 12 complained about their salad?”
Manuel “The reason there was so much lettuce is because I like lettuce. A good salad should have lots of lettuce.”
Basil “It is unacceptable for people to be served a salad with too much lettuce and not enough meat here at Fawlty Towers. You have made us look cheap, like we are skimping on meat.”
Manuel “I have never been told I made the restaurant look cheap anywhere else have worked before.”
Basil (through gritted teeth) “I will be happy to show you how to serve up a salad properly.”
Manuel “Right, I won’t do salads any more.” (Storms out.)
Basil (Under his breath) “Good riddance. You might as well leave now, you useless individual. You never do any work anyway, we won’t even notice you’ve gone.”


Giving feedback doesn’t have to be like that

Feedback is just information about what you did or said that helps you to decide what to do next time.


You don’t have to give feedback

The secret with feedback is that you don’t have to give it; you just have to make sure the other person gets the information.

Once you realize that, it’s much easier. If you can help them to work it out for themselves that works nicely too.


The process I recommended to my client to resolve the situation

  1. Ask the team member if he would mind if you went back to his original question (in our example about the lettuce)
  2. If he says OK, even if it’s very tentative, thank him profusely
  3. Ask him when would be convenient for him to do it
  4. During the conversation, be sure to use phrases like
  • What happened?
  • What implements/procedures/tools were used?

Rather than saying:
You did this
You made a mistake etc
I don’t like ________

This keeps it much easier to discuss
Then work through to what it is you need to achieve and how you can do that (for example, a salad that is 30% meat).

  • When it seems appropriate, you can explain your vision for the team and how you want to work with the whole team to achieve it.
  • Then ask if he wants to be part of that – is it his ‘thing’?
  • Give him an easy (face-saving) way out (e.g. if it’s not for you, I’ll quite understand.)


It’s easy to get into this situation. Our handy booklet “Feedback for the Faint-Hearted” will take you through 62 easy tips and techniques that ensure you will be able to give feedback even in the most difficult of circumstances.

It’s short and to the point so you can easily find the information you need to help you to deal with any situation.

And we will also tell you how to deal easily and elegantly with unpleasant, unfair or unwanted feedback from others.

You’ll discover:

  • What feedback really is
  • 3 different ways of giving it and which one you should use
  • 46 questions you can ask to help people work the feedback out for themselves

Get “Feedback for the Faint-Hearted” now.

UK Prices in Dollars? In some parts of the UK, the prices may be in dollars. This Due to a something BT has done. We are working on it. It won’t affect the price you pay, this is the same. All the booklets are still £6.25. (If you are in the US we hope the prices are in dollars for you!)


Three dangers of objectives

In their paper, Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting, Lisa D. Ordóñez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky and Max H. Bazerman, the authors cite the hazards of ‘indiscriminate goal setting’.


3 serious risks when you set goals and objectives

They say; goals may cause systematic problems in organizations due to narrowed focus including unethical behavior, increased risk taking and decreased cooperation. And they are right.


The hazards of goal setting

They give examples to support each of their claims. Each example is documented and well known. However, what they seem to be doing is blaming goals in totality, rather than the specific goals in these cases, all of which seem pretty flawed to me.


Unethical behaviour

In one example from Sears, Roebuck and Co, Sears set sales goals for its auto repair staff of $147/hour. In order to achieve this goal, the staff overcharged for work and carried out unnecessary repairs on a company wide basis (Dishneau, 1992).

Though they don’t give this example, we experienced a similar thing in the UK when dentists were paid per filling and it was discovered that many were giving their patients unnecessary treatment as a result.


Increased risk-taking

You only have to look at banks and hedge funds to see examples of increased risk taking. They argue that goals are too specific and narrow, which results in people ignoring important features of a task (like safety).


Decreased cooperation

I have certainly seen wasteful competition caused by goals. I remember one client where the sales people from the same company were trying to steel sales off each other from the same customer. What a waste of resources.


Goals and objectives are there to make it easy to get it right

Yes, setting goals badly can result in all these problems. This is why you have to do it properly and carefully.


It’s impossible to predict all the side effects of a goal or objective

Even if you spend a great deal of time doing your best it’s still easy to get it wrong and encourage precisely the kind of behaviour that you don’t want, and sometimes couldn’t even imagine.


People’s behaviour depends on the system much more than their ‘personality’.

This is shocking but unfortunately, true. So what you need to do when agree goals and objectives is make it easy for people to do the right thing. It takes time and you have to be prepared to correct mistakes as you go. But it can be done.


How to get the goals right

  1. Monitor carefully the results of the objectives and goals you set and agree
  2. As soon as you spot a problem, investigate. Do not blame the individuals concerned; instead work out how the goal needs to be changed
  3. Set the new goal and go back to step 1


Just admit you have made a mistake

That’s all you need to do, then correct it and move on. As long as you have that culture, it’s not that hard. But when you’re in a culture that dictates admitting mistakes is a weakness or in a system that does not review progress, then you have a problem.


These problems are not down to objectives being an inherently bad thing


They are the result of a powerful tool being used badly.


Yes, it’s easy to fall into these traps. Our handy booklet How to Write Objectives That Work will walk you through 55 simple tools and techniques to ensure that you get your objectives right. It’s short and to the point so you can quickly find the help you need.
And of course we’ll show you just what to do with those really difficult objectives that people struggle with.

You’ll discover:

  • The key steps to take to write any objective
  • 7 key words and phrases you must avoid when writing objectives and what to do instead
  • How to make your objectives SMART

Get How to Write Objectives That Work now.

Bad Customer Service Objectives

Have you seen any customer service goals and objectives like these 4 examples?

  • Answer the phone within 3 rings
  • Ensure our clients’ expectations are exceeded
  • Provide customers with an excellent standard of service
  • Continually increase the level of resources going into front line services

You may think these objectives sound great. In fact they are awful.

The purpose of customer care objectives is that your people know exactly what they need to do in order for the customers to get the quality of service you are after.
Customer care objectives must meet these two criteria

  • They are aligned with your top-level customer service goals
  • It is obvious whether they have been achieved or not

How to improve these rogue objectives

Answer the phone within 3 rings

Identify what the customer really wants and needs when he or she phones you. Having recently had to deal with yet another mistake from our bank, here is my suggestion:

All customer queries are resolved on the first phone call

It’s very tempting to go with the ‘3 rings’ because you can measure it so easily. But it’s far more important that the call is dealt with effectively.

Ensure our clients’ expectations are exceeded

You don’t know what the expectations are. In my case with my bank, they are now very low. So ensuring they were exceeded would be reaching what I think you would regard as an unacceptably low standard.

Far better to have this objective:

Identify the customer’s needs and, at a minimum, meet them.

This means that, if you are able to, you can give them more than they need, which is probably what you mean by ‘exceeding expectations’. In my case I’d be utterly delighted if our bank met our needs. (Actually I’d also be astonished.)

Provide customers with an excellent standard of service

What do you mean by an ‘excellent standard of service’? You need to define this; otherwise your people won’t know what they need to do.

Ensure our customer service standards are met.

The service standards list is the place to put things like ‘answer the phone within 3 rings’.
Continually increase the level of resources going into front line services

If you do this for very long, your front line services will be massive. Focus on what needs to be achieved and write the objective on that; don’t just go increasing resources because you think it will automatically lead to improvement.

Key points when writing customer care objectives

  • Always look at this from the customer’s point of view. Ask yourself; if I were the customer, what would I want?
  • Make sure that anyone who has these objectives knows exactly how to achieve them and what they need to do. Just ask them to explain how they will go about it and it will soon be clear if they understand the objective or not.

Make sure people in these situations have the support they need from other departments. This is vital. It means that you need to have horizontally aligned objectives for others involved.

For instance, in my own case with our bank the individual I spoke with needed other colleagues to complete tasks in order to rectify the errors they had made as well as the individual himself rectifying his own mistakes.

What do I do if I get stuck on my objectives?

Don’t worry, this happens to lots of people. Our handy Objectives Quick Start Sheets have typical objectives already written for you. You can copy and paste them directly into your own document. All you need to do is change the details.
This reduces the time it takes you to write your objectives from hours to minutes.

You can pick from:

Get your Objectives Quick Start Sheet now.

Another reason why people don’t like change

You will have heard many people complaining about change – usually the kind of change that is forced on them by others. Perhaps you have experienced unwelcome change yourself.

Changes in your working arrangements can be very contentious.

It’s your brain

But are you aware that there is a part of your brain whose job it is to cause some of these problems?

In you brain, just above your ears on each side of your head is an amygdala. This part of your brain sees losing anything as worse than gaining the same thing.

A gambling game

Here’s a little game I’ve played with participants on many workshops. It’s all about betting

Once you have your chips you hate to let them go

on the toss of a coin.

You get £10 worth of gambling chips. You can bet just £1 on each toss of the coin. If it comes up heads, you win £2.50 and get your original stake back. If it comes up tails, you lose your £1 stake.

You have 15 goes.

The odds are in your favour

If you have a basic maths qualification you will know that you should bet on all 15 rounds, because you stand to win more than you stand to lose.

But hardly anyone ever does. Most people bet on between eight and 12 of the rounds.

The amygdala wins

Even though this is not real money, the chips aren’t even yours and you will most likely win more than you will lose, you still hate losing more than you like winning. In other words, the prospect of losing £1 outweighs the prospect of winning £2.50.

The practical implications

So this means that when you are trying to impose a change on others, you need to be aware that, even though you may think their situation, in balance, is still the same or even improved, this is often not how it feels or looks to them. They are not being deliberately unreasonable.

Discuss the objective

A more effective way to make these changes is to put the decision-making into their hands. To do this, explain what you need to achieve and then ask for their suggestions.

In these situations, asking is much better than telling. To find out how to use questions effectively get Questions Made Easy.